60 years under the stars

On weekends, Samantha Sherrod and her friends are headed to their favorite hangout spot -- The Big Mo. A few weeks ago, the 16-year-old Batesburg-Leesville High School student and her companions were first in line at the drive-in, officially known as Monetta Drive-In Theatre.

"I've been coming since I was little," Samantha said. "It's really fun to come with your friends and family because you get to spend time with them and watch movies. You get to meet a bunch of new people if you walk around."

On a typical Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, carloads of eager moviegoers are lined up on Columbia Highway North in Monetta, S.C., waiting to enter the drive-in and enjoy a night of good, clean fun.

"Especially if good movies like Scream 4 and Limitless are coming out, all the teenagers will be here and sometimes you'll have a line going all the way up the road," Samantha said. "The drive-in is one of the best places to come because we can't get in trouble for loitering.

"You can't hang out in school parking lots anymore, you can't hang out in Walmart parking lot, but you can come here and hang out in your trucks. You don't get in trouble for it."

In addition to the movies, there are fun and games. During one visit, a kid started playing kick the-can, and Samantha and her friends joined in. When they came to see Ice Age 3 , they stopped by the Dollar Store to pick up flying discs and beach balls.

Her friend, Nicole Smith, 16, has been going to The Big Mo for five years.

"It's just a cool place to come hang out with your friends," Nicole said.

It's also a great value. At the drive-in, they can watch two movies for the price of one at a regular movie theater, she said.

This year, Monetta Drive-In Theatre is celebrating its 60th anniversary, said Lisa Boaz, who owns the drive-in with her husband, Richard. Monetta Drive-In opened April 26, 1951. It closed in 1986. Richard Boaz found the drive-in in 1998 and reopened it one year later.

"My husband saw it and fell in love with the idea of running a drive-in," Lisa Boaz said. "We had been to a drive-in when we first got married. We really enjoyed it and liked the old-fashioned, retro, Americana atmosphere. He found this one, and it was love at first sight for him."

The drive-in needed a lot of work, she said. The concession stand is the original building. They renovated the screen tower because it was barely standing. The speaker poles are original, but they're no longer used because the drive-in now has FM area sound.

In 2005, the owners added a second screen. Two weeks ago, they opened a third screen, Boaz said.

"That will let us have more new movies and hopefully always have a kid's movie," she said. "We have a lot of families that come out, and there are times of year where there are hardly any kids' movies being released by the studios. This will let us hold on to a kids' movie for a longer period of time so that people can plan their birthday parties and their family outings without having to worry if there's going to be a G or PG movie there."

Patrons at Monetta Drive-In watch a double feature. The first movie is less than 2 weeks old, and the second has usually been in theaters a few weeks. The drive-in is open from March to November.

"A lot of times we'll play a movie of the Star-Spangled Banner before the movie starts and everybody honks their horns at the end," she said.

While watching the movie, visitors either sit in their cars or in chair they have brought. Before the movie, it's common to see people flying discs or playing card games, knitting or visiting with family and friends. During a 15-minute intermission between the films, there are trivia contests. The Big Mo is pet-friendly.

"We have a lot of people that bring their dogs. The first night of Hop , we actually had someone who brought a bunny," Boaz said.

Amy Smith and her 14-year-old daughter, Michelle, the owners of the white-and-brown Holland Lop bunny, said they couldn't resist. They've also taken their Chihuahua out for a night at the movies. The Smiths live 20 miles away in Gilbert, but plan to keep making the drive to The Big Mo, which Amy has been doing for 16 years.

"I like the value," she said. "It's a really good price. The movies are always good. It's a good place to bring your kids for a nice family atmosphere."

She also enjoys the food, which is tasty and well-priced. There's always something to do at The Big Mo, such as holiday cookouts, pony rides and pajama nights.

"The last time I took her to an actual movie theater, it cost me $23 just for the two of us to get in," Smith said. "It was a 3-D movie, but we can come here and for $7 apiece get two very good movies. It's just a great getaway. As long as the Mo's open, I'll keep coming up here."

Carol Ann Robinson, of Aiken, recently introduced her fiance, David Hopkins, to the drive-in. Robinson, 20, has been a Big Mo regular since she was a kid.

"It's fun. I guess it's kind of nostalgic," Hopkins said on his first visit. "Something that your grandparents used to do."

Monetta drive-in theatre

WHERE: 5822 Columbia Highway N., Monetta, S.C.

HOURS: Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings; gates open at 7 p.m., first movie on each screen starts at dusk (approximately 8:30 p.m.)

DETAILS: Three screens available, double feature; $7 adults (12 and older), $3 children (4 to 11) and free for children 3 and under. Cash only at ticket booth. One transaction per car, and exact change is appreciated.

LEARN MORE: www.thebigmo.com

Now showing

MAIN SCREEN: Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (PG-13), Thor (PG-13)

SCREEN 2: Fast Five (PG-13), Madea's Big Happy Family (PG-13)

SCREEN 3: Rio (G), Water for Elephants (PG-13)

EXTRA FUN: Dress like a pirate this weekend and get a small popcorn free

COMING SOON: The Hangover Part II, Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2

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